Set-top boxes

FCC Launches Downloadable Security Push

While net neutrality has seized the spotlight at the FCC, another lesser-known issue is working its way through the agency review process.

The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has named the members of a new Downloadable Security Technical Advisory Committee (DSTAC), which will hold its first meeting on February 17. The committee's job is to craft recommendations for an industry-wide downloadable security system geared toward creating retail competition for cable set-tops and other pay-TV-compatible devices. In the wake of the fiasco that was the set-top integration ban (a.k.a. the CableCARD mandate), the FCC has declared that the industry needs a new solution that is "technology- and platform-neutral," as well as "not unduly burdensome." (See Obama Signs CableCARD Death Warrant and Who Will Own Cable's Content Security?)

The list of members on the DSTAC (full list below) is a who's who of pay-TV industry players. However, there are some notable absentees, including Verizon Communications Inc. (NYSE: VZ), vendor heavyweight Cisco Systems Inc. (Nasdaq: CSCO) and Beyond Broadband Technology LLC (BBT) , which has already developed its own downloadable security system.

Among the companies that are represented, Cablevision Systems Corp. (NYSE: CVC) stands out because it has already broadly deployed downloadable security in the form of a solution called Open Media Security/Key Ladder (OMS or OMS KLAD). Charter Communications Inc. , which is also on the committee, has plans to do the same.

On the surface, it would appear that Cablevision and Charter should hold significant clout among DSTAC members. The OMS solution that they've adopted (which was created by NDS and now belongs to Cisco, which took over NDS) clearly works effectively in a real-world environment.

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Unfortunately, the nature of downloadable security means that simply recommending OMS as a solution for the entire industry isn't practical. There's another technology layer underneath the OMS component that works to scramble and descramble data. According to a well-placed source who asked not to be named, that scrambling technology isn't common across the industry. As a result, OMS isn't interoperable with many of the pay-TV systems that are already in place.

With all of the players involved in pay-TV services, it's going to be very hard for the FCC to find a solution that works for everyone without being "unduly burdensome." Some will also argue that, as more video delivered over IP, a new solution isn't really necessary. With IP video, there's already retail competition a-plenty.

The new downloadable security committee has until September 4 to file a report with its recommendations to the FCC.

The DSTAC member list is as follows:

  • Dr. Ahmad Ansari, Director of New Product Development, AT&T Labs, AT&T
  • Brant Candelore, Senior Staff Member, Sony Electronics, Inc., Sony Electronics, Inc.
  • John Card II, Director of Standards and Technology, EchoStar Technologies, LLC, DISH Network
  • Matthew Clark, Principal, Business Development Digital Products, Amazon
  • Bob Clyne, Senior Vice President of Engineering and New Technologies, Cablevision Systems Corp.
  • Adam Goldberg, Principal, AGP, LLC, Public Knowledge
  • Mark Hess, Senior Vice President, Office of the Chief Technology Officer, Business and Industry Affairs, Comcast Cable
  • Brad Love, Chief Technologist, Hauppauge
  • Kenneth Lowe, VP and Co-Founder, Vizio
  • John McCoskey, EVP, Global Policy and External Affairs, Motion Picture Association of America
  • Bruce McClelland, President of Network and Cloud & Global Services, ARRIS
  • Milo Medin, Vice President of Access Services, Google
  • Alan Messer, Vice President, Advanced Technology, Samsung’s Advanced Technology Lab
  • Jay Rolls, Senior Vice President and Chief Technology Officer, Charter Communications, Inc., Charter Communications, Inc.
  • Simha Sethumadhavan, Associate Professor of Computer Science & Alfred P. Sloan Fellow, Columbia University, Special Government Employee
  • Brent Smith, President and CTO, Evolution Digital, Evolution Digital
  • Dr. Joseph Weber, Chief Technical Officer for the Service Provider Business Unit, TiVo, Inc.

— Mari Silbey, special to Light Reading

Phil_Britt 2/17/2015 | 7:58:39 AM
Re: Cynical of Solutions I agree that downloading makes sense, but a better idea might be automatic downloads, as with Windows and other security patches. Of course, I'm not sure I want a government entity automatically downloading anything to my computer -- it's already too much like 1984.
danielcawrey 2/8/2015 | 12:23:54 PM
Re: Cynical of Solutions Downloading makes a lot of sense. I mean, it's 2015 – this is the way software is pushed these days. 

Of course, this issue with scrambling is certainly something that needed to be dealt with. What needs to be done is that there should be standards put in place. Don't make things difficult in order to facilitate security practices!
smkinoshita 2/6/2015 | 2:47:38 PM
Cynical of Solutions FCC has declared that the industry needs a new solution that is "technology- and platform-neutral," as well as "not unduly burdensome."

Call me cynical, but while I agree that this is needed I just can't see it making the "not unduly burdonsome" requirement.  What is 'not unduly burdonsome' to one group is not the same to others.  Sometimes it's a matter of one group having no ability to see what it's like to work with a requirement on a regular basis, while other times it's another group being unable to imagine doing something in a way that's different.
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